Sean Capkin

I wonder how hard, or maybe in his case how easy, it was to live the character he encouraged in us each day, to be the one who stuck around to make sure the job was done.


Two years ago, during the pandemic graduation of 2020, when Mr. Hughes stood onstage for seven hours a day for more than a week to personally hand each graduating senior their diploma, students and their families had to wait outside the school for their turn to enter the building. As they waited outside, Mr. Hughes insisted that one and only one song play for hours on repeat all of those days: “This is Me,” a song written by an LM graduate from the movie The Greatest Showman. According to Mrs. Hughes, it was his favorite song. This makes me wonder …

I wonder if he loved the song at first just because it was the work of an LM grad? Did the message of pride and esteem in one’s own identity move him in a way that maybe you could only understand if you were charged with inculcating and developing those very ideals in thousands of students each year, and here were those ideals made tangible from a former student going forth to serve, to preach them in a song to the world? I wonder if he saw something of himself in the title of the movie, The Greatest Showman. A principal by title, a dad-husband-son-brother-teacher-leader-listener-decider-innovator-motivator-supporter-defender-athlete-cheerleader-politician-custodian-Players cameo-er-Amazing Ace at heart. So many hats for one head, so many eyes squarely on him. We all knew being principal was a challenging position, but I wonder if any of us ever really understood the depth of the challenge of so many competing roles and how hard it is to be on all the time, to be the showman of the school. 

I wonder about his drives to school in the quiet of the dark morning, just how early he got up to be the first one in the building, and even when I pulled into the parking lot at 6:03 and thought for sure I would beat him on this day, I still couldn’t manage it as the light from his office already illuminated the parking lot. He loved the camaraderie of the weight room, the spirit of morning runs along Montgomery, maybe one of the few things he did during the day that was actually for himself. But I wonder if he also loved the quiet of the empty school, the anticipation of the day; I wonder what small victories—an interaction with a student, the championing of a teacher’s brainstorm—motivated him to rise each day. I think of his drives back home late at night, after a board meeting or a choir concert or a homecoming dance attended by two-thirds of the school, only leaving after helping sweep the empty cafeteria floor himself as he sent others home to their families. I wonder how hard, or maybe in his case how easy, it was to live the character he encouraged in us each day, to be the one who stuck around to make sure the job was done.

I wonder how much impact one man can have. Mr. Hughes was my teacher before he was my friend, an adult kind and caring enough to seek me out by name as an impressionable teenager in the weight room, working to get to know me and making time to talk, making me feel appreciated. When I wrote about these very interactions in a previous graduation issue for The Merionite, Mr. Hughes came to my room to thank me for what I wrote, still making me feel appreciated even as an adult. I wonder if he knew how much that meant to me, his stopping down to say thank you for my dumb all-staff breakfast poems or my effort coaching football or his very last thank you for a rollicking Radnor Week. I wonder how many more times I should have thanked him for every time he trusted me, for hiring me with zero years-days-minutes of experience teaching in a high school classroom. I’m blessed to maintain friendships with many of our seniors after they graduate, and so many have emailed, texted, and called in the last month to share their stories of him, offer condolences, and seek solace. At around 350 graduating seniors a year for the last twenty-plus years, I wonder just how many more “me”s there are out there, grateful and impacted and a bit more of who they are today because of these little, personal moments in time he shared way back when.

I wonder about love, about how much love there is to give and to share, and how even when you think you might be at capacity there always seems space for more. I wonder how the right combination of care-respect-sacrifice-admiration-effort mixes to suddenly feel love. He had such space in his heart for our students, such empathy with personal matters as a boss, and we were only one part of his life—the love he had for his real family, coaching his kids’ teams, escaping on vacation with them, knew no bounds. I wonder about Mrs. Hughes and Jack, Nolan, and Katie, about how hard it was to share their husband and dad with so many of us, or maybe in their case how easy it was, because they knew how much he loved this place. I wonder if they know just how much he was loved here in these halls. I’m sure they know just how much he loved them.

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